An Interview with Carolyn Meyer about Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess

  • Grades: 6–8

Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. & Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D.: You've said that you cried as you wrote the final pages of Anastasia's diary. What made you so sad?

Carolyn Meyer: I was sad because, although the diary ends on a hopeful note ("And so, farewell to you, dear diary. Until we meet again."), I knew what was going to happen next. I wept because I, the author, was aware of Anastasia's fate, and she, the keeper of the diary, was not. And I wept because I believe that what happened to the Tsar and his family was cruel and unnecessary.

RFA & EST: In the historical notes, you mention that Anastasia and her mother kept diaries. Did you use parts of these diaries in your research? How did these diaries figure into your writing of the book?

CM: Anastasia's diary entries were useful because they gave me a clue to her personality, as well as some information about what she was doing at various times. I had fragments of her sisters' diaries as well, to help fill in the gaps. Mama's diary helped me to solve one troublesome problem: which calendar to use for the dates of the diary entries. Anastasia and her sister and brother were Russian born and probably used only the Julian calendar, but Mama was from Germany, which had switched over to the Gregorian calendar, and she adopted the habit of using both dates in her diary. This became an important issue when events in Europe began to affect what was going on in Russia.

RFA & EST: Besides Anastasia, who is your favorite character in the book? Why?

CM: Oh, Father Grigory! Bad guys are always fun to write about. This doesn't mean I would have wanted to spend an evening with him.

RFA & EST: You fell in love with the story of Anastasia years ago. As you delved into her life to research this diary, what did you learn that surprised you most?

CM: Maybe surprised isn't quite the word, but I found myself fascinated by the distinctive personalities of the four sisters ("OTMA") and their younger brother, and of the relationship among them.

RFA & EST: If your readers wanted to read another book on Anastasia, do you have one or two you'd recommend?

CM: Anastasia's Album by Hugh Brewster (New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 1996) is a beautiful book with lots of photographs and some of Anastasia's own drawings. It would make a wonderful companion book to her diary."

RFA & EST:
Your book hints at the unsavory and amoral character of Father Grigory. What did you find out about his powers of prediction and healing? Was the royal family, especially Alexandra, unaware of his true character, or did they choose to ignore it because he seemed to be able to heal Alexei?

CM:
People in Anastasia's time either loved Father Grigory and considered him a great healer, or they despised him and thought he was a fraud. He did seem able to soothe Alexandra's fears, and when she became calmer, Alexei also relaxed enough to let his body heal itself. The Dowager Empress Marie was one of those who hated Grigory; Tsar Nicholas, as usual, was caught between his mother and his wife.

RFA & EST: You discuss some of the myths about the "miraculous survival" of Anastasia, yet you seem to be convinced that she died with her family. Why do you think so? To what do you attribute the intense interest in Anastasia Romanov?

CM: I would love to believe that Anastasia escaped, but having read the grisly accounts of the execution and disposal of the bodies, I simply don't think it was possible for anyone to have survived. But what if, against all odds and all evidence, she really did manage somehow to escape? — that's the romantic fantasy that is so appealing to so many people.

RFA & EST:
What is one question you'd like to ask children after they've finished reading Anastasia's diary?

CM: After Anastasia lost everything, what is the one thing you think she might have missed the most? If you were to lose everything, as Anastasia did, what would you miss the most?

RFA & EST: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess?

CM: Anastasia's story demonstrates how suddenly everything we take for granted can be swept away by events of history over which we have no control. Many of us would have considered Anastasia badly spoiled by the riches of her pampered existence, yet even when her life went spinning out of control, she never lost hope and she never lost her sense of humor.

Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.

  • Subjects:
    Family Life, European History, Social Studies through Literature
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